My Life is So Different Now

Three years ago this week I made the decision to retire from Yale and move to Texas to live with and care for my dad. I don’t regret the decision but my life is so totally different; sometimes I feel disconnected, because there is no one here who has any connection to the professional life I led for so many years. Married people, people with children, usually have at least someone who has shared those experiences with them. I don’t even have my cat anymore.

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Yale Law Library Reading Room

I worked on college campuses for almost 40 years and there is an energy there that keeps things hopping. I started working in general university libraries right after getting my M.L.S. and moved to law school libraries three years later, never looking back. My career was in Technical Services, which started out as cataloging and evolved into management of all of the specialties under the Tech Services banner: acquisitions, serials, binding, cataloging, electronic resources, integrated library systems. I worked long hours at challenging work – You want a book from Singapore that was published today? And you want it when?  Okay, let me see what I can do. I lived in Virginia, in Maine, in Boston, and Connecticut, sometimes moving without knowing anyone else in the state. Moving was hard but I did it – and by myself.

My organizations allowed me time to be active in my profession, going to national and specialty conference such as the Innovative Users Group for users of the system I worked with for almost 30 years. Of course, that meant working late and on weekends to get my regular work accomplished, but it was a good trade off for keeping my brain stretched and making wonderful contacts across the country and around the world.  I spent five years on the IUG Steering Committee, including being education chair for a national conference, followed immediately by three years on the Executive Board of the American Association of Law Libraries. And three years later, I was education chair for the AALL conference, too. Exhilarating, challenging, hard, creative, fun.

I loved working out the bibliographic puzzles that went with my job. Figuring out what happened to serial publications that stopped coming or morphed into other titles without warning. Finding books requested by colleagues and faculty that came with incomplete or wrong titles. Resolving systems problems. Dreaming up new ways to explain old things to staff.

Ah, staff. I hated supervising. That was the only really hard thing about my job to me. I want to work in a collegial relationship with people who act like adults and pull their weight. Supervising people, and especially those in a tough union shop, made that difficult at times. And it was exhausting. I do not miss that one bit, though I do miss some of the people. Okay, not many of them, but some.

12108756_10208073611423764_1885628941810349569_n (1)I thoughtfully planned my departure from Yale, working to transition tasks and responsibilites to new people and writing endless documentation to explain how to do it. One week after I retired from Yale, I got in the car with the cat and my sister-in-law and drove to Texas. There was no time to process or grieve because new things were coming. I almost never hear from the people I worked with and it’s as though who I was and what I did there doesn’t matter to anyone except me. I’m forgotten and left behind. Which is appropriate; I don’t want them mourning me, either, but people I thought were friends apparently were just passing in the hallways instead. And that’s hard.

So I have a new life now. Instead of being an experienced, senior person, I’m a youngster in a retirement community. I work part-time as a church secretary, making bulletins, writing documentation, maintaining the website. I sing in the choir, play Mah Jongg, and have friends. I’m also primary caregiver for my 90 year old father, who is increasingly fragile and forgetful. Never having had children, I have one now in many ways, and it’s difficult. It’s hard to know how to take time away when I have to be at the church at 8:00 a.m. six days a week, plus care for my dad. I don’t regret being here but I haven’t adjusted.

I miss my friends and am grateful to Facebook, with all its problems, for helping me stay in touch with people who knew me in my other life. I miss my cat, who died last May. I need a hug.

52 Ancestors – #17 Peel Cemetery in Bear Grass

Some of my ancestors are buried in small private family cemeteries out in the country; others found their final rest in crowded historic New York cemeteries. Some have elaborate headstones to mark their passing; others are in unmarked graves, while still others have stones that are no longer legible, worn down by time.  Many others are lost or rather, have not yet been found.

In August 1979, I drove around Martin County, North Carolina, with my grandmother, Susie Lanier (Keel) Myers, and her sister Mary Magdalene “Maglene” (Keel) Taylor. Our quest: the family cemetery behind the old family homestead farm, which I now know is the Peel Family Cemetery in Bear Grass. Their mother was Sarah Annis Peal and this was where “her people” were buried.

KEEL Susie and Maglene - August 1979 - Williamston NC
Susie Keel Myers & Maglene Keel Taylor, August 1979, Williamston, NC

Aunt Maglene was deaf as a post and sat in the back seat of the big green Pontiac as we drove. Her sister, my grandmother, kept up a loud conversation with her in her thick Southern accent about points along the way. “No, Sister, that’s not where he was born, it was over yonder behind the school on the road next to the farm.”  Since I had no idea where we were or where we were going, it was hard to follow the conversation. And they argued about almost everything so I wasn’t sure what to believe anyway.

Grandmama turned down a dirt road next a farm house and headed back to a wooded area. “Should we be going this way? It looks like someone’s home,” I said. “Oh, it’s alright. We’re family,” she replied.  We pulled up and parked next to the woods and walked inside a quiet sheltered area with a few old tombstones poking through piles of leaves under the shade of tall trees. It didn’t look like a cemetery at all.

PEEL Stanley - Tombstone - NC Beargrass-1902

Grandmama and Maglene got very quiet as they walked, obviously looking for something that they were not finding, and asking each other where “the stones” were. “What stones?” I asked, since I saw some standing, all for people whose names were new even if the stones were old. “Our brothers and sisters.”  These old ladies in their late 70’s were looking for the graves of their seven dead siblings who died in infancy, who they knew were buried in this place, but who couldn’t be found. They were shaken.

But clearly the graves hadn’t disappeared overnight. “When were you here last?” I asked them, which started a competitive conversation about cemetery visiting, only to reveal that the last time either of them had been to this family cemetery was over fifty years before when their grandmother Jane Elizabeth (Stalls) Peal was buried there in 1921. I remember wondering who they thought was going to care for the graves if they didn’t do it; clearly no one else had thought of it, either. This was a private family cemetery, not a publicly maintained one. If family didn’t care for it, it wouldn’t – and obviously didn’t – happen.

PEAL Mariney J - Tombstone - 1922 - NC BeargrassWe cleaned up what we could and I photographed some of the grave stones we found. I wish now I’d taken all of them, but I was young in terms of genealogy research and it simply never occurred to me. I’ve never returned but wish I could, though I’m not sure I could find it again without my guides in the big green Pontiac. I would bring rakes and tools to clean up the space and clean the stones, and photograph them to share on FindaGrave, which only has two memorials listed as of today. There were no images of the cemetery or of either grave until I uploaded these.

I must add that this Peel Family Cemetery in Bear Grass shouldn’t be confused with the Peele Family Cemetery or the Peel-Griffin Family Cemeter, both in Farmlife, Martin County. There are plenty of Peal/Peel/Peele’s to go around and they are all related if you go back far enough. But my Peel Cemetery is still a mystery.  I want to find the graves of those great-aunts and uncles who died as babies. I know they are there; they just need to be found. I wonder who else is buried with them, lost to time.

52 Ancestors – #16 Storms

encased in iceMy father obsessively watches TV weather forecasts and special inset maps during bad storms, at least until the power goes out. He watches the maps of radar that show every documented lightening strike and calculates storm direction and power. Knowing what’s coming allows him to be prepared.

Our ancestors didn’t have Doppler Radar or National Weather Service alerts tracking storms and warning of flooding and torrential rains or high winds. There were no weathermen telling them to get into a windowless room in the center of their homes when tornadoes were coming.  Of course, our ancestors also didn’t have days and weeks without power because they didn’t have electricity, either.

Instead, they learned to read clues in nature, to master the meaning of the cloud formations and colors of the sky. They smelled the air and could tell when rain or snow is coming. They paid attention to muskrats and bees, migration patterns of birds and insects, the sound of crickets – and some of them used the Old Farmers’ Almanac which was first published in 1792. They had to be prepared all the time.

525SChestnutinSnow

Storms and weather disasters normal in one area are not the same in another. But you learn to live with what you have, whether that’s hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, or earthquakes. As your “normal” changes , so do your expectations and preparations. Move from one area to another, though, and you have to learn a new normal. You learn how to prep for power outages, what nonperishable foods to have stocked in the pantry, to have enough cash and cat food and full bottles of prescriptions, and to fill the car’s gas tank before the storm hit. You have a storm cellar or know what to do when you feel a tremor.

The storm is coming. You know it, you’ve prepared, you’re hunkered down at home, sometimes with battens or wood covering windows to keep them from breaking. You have candles, battery-powered lanterns, maybe a generator. A hand-cranked radio. All electronic devices are charged up. You watch the Weather Channel until the TV flickers and goes out, then you just wait it out. You hope the howling winds don’t knock over trees, especially into your house.  And you are grateful to be warm and dry and safe as long as possible.

I like blizzards as long as I’m not out driving in one. I respect the power of hurricanes and have seen the incredible damage done by raging winds and water to homes and lands and people. Tornadoes terrify me as do earthquakes. Nature can be cruel and at best, tolerates us. We can learn something from our ancestors about living in tune with the world around them. I think I will go watch the sky.

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52 Ancestors – #15 Income and Taxes

Benjamin Franklin said, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Paying taxes requires money and for most of us, that money comes from working or savings of some kind, perhaps an inheritance. This week’s prompt is about taxes and I’m fudging that to talk about income that was used to pay those taxes.

In 1977, I was thrilled to have my first full-time professional job with a salary of $8,000. Now that sounds ridiculous, but the cost of living was much less then as well. When my parents married in 1951, my mom earned $854/year as a secretary at Merck while my dad brought home a princely $248/month. They bought their first house for $13,000, paid for using a VA loan.

Let’s put that in perspective and look at the income of their parents from the 1940 census, just eleven years earlier.

1940censusFlandersIncome

My mom’s family lived in Newark, New Jersey, where her father was a salesman for a water meter company. He worked 40 hours a week with an annual income of $1,500. He owned an inherited paid-for house valued at $6,500. His wife was a housewife and there were six members of the household, including his mother, brother, and sister-in-law.

1940censusMyersincome

My father’s family lived in rural North Carolina, where both of my paternal grandparents worked 48 hours a week. Granddaddy was a “regular helper” at a tobacco company earning $1,500/year and my grandmother was a seamstress at a pressing club (now known as a dry cleaners), earning $650.  They owned their home and were paying a mortgage as well as supporting a household of seven, including both of my grandmother’s parents.

Mom’s grandparents lived in the New York City area and they had urban-type jobs. My Irish immigrant ancestor William Cooke was a shoemaker in Brooklyn; his son (and my g-grandfather) Robert sold paper. The Heginbothams were all hatters in Manhattan – hatters and milners and hat trimmers. Thomas Heginbotham‘s father William was a hatter in Cheshire, England, too, which is where he learned the trade.  William John Flanders was born in England as well, but he was a salesman – gentlemen’s clothes and gloves, going on the road as a “commercial traveler” by 1920. His father was a horse breeder and gentleman farmer from a long line of English fen-country farmers.

EstatesAdminDetailGenerations of my dad’s family were farmers on their own or rented lands. Most of them didn’t leave wills and their estates administration records are full of clues about their success. I love looking at inventories of their belongings – candlesticks and pots, spinning wheels and farm tools, feather beds, honey, and cows. And sometimes there are names of people casually listed as  property. Those are the records that stop me in my tracks.  This is part of an inventory of my 5th-g-grandfather, John Goodwin, who died in 1815. He is not the only North Carolina ancestor who owned slaves; although most did not, it’s still something I have to sort through.

 

52 Ancestors – #7 How My Parents Met

If you spend 10 minutes with my father, you hear the story of how he met my mom. It’s his favorite story in the world and I’ve heard it a million times. But it’s still a good story. In his words, verbatim and for the record:

Engaged

“I went to Duke University and I was poor. I didn’t have a nickel. One day when I was a junior, a fraternity brother on my hall asked me if I had a date that night. I said, ‘Sure do,” and he asked me if I’d like to make it a double date. He had a car. Oh boy, that was something! So I said, “Sure.”

“The women’s campus at Duke was 3 miles away from the men’s campus. We drove over and picked up my date first, then we went to pick up his date. When she came down the stairs, I took one look at her and said to myself, “Oh, my GOD, that’s the one I want!”

“The next morning I called her at 8:00, the earliest time you could call the women’s dorm, and I asked her out for a date that night. She said yes. And that was it. Neither one of us ever dated anyone else for the rest of our lives. She was 17 years old. My Peggy.”

Now wasn’t that a good story?